Islamic Galleries at The Met

The 18th Century Damascus Room Displayed at the Met's New Islamic Galleries

New Yorkers no longer have to travel to Linxia or Basra to catch a glimpse of Islamic artistic creativity. Last week, the Metropolitan Museum of Art (“The Met”) completed an eight-year renovation of their Islamic galleries, now housing over 1,200 works spanning more than 1,400 years. The Met even commissioned a Moroccan family with generations of artisan experience to coordinate and create a traditional Moroccan courtyard inside the museum itself.

Although most of the pieces have been in the permanent collection for years, the Met has taken some off of its dusty storage shelves and provided others with a more prominent display. Works now on display include a mihrab (prayer niche indicating the direction of Mecca) from Isfahan, an 18th-century Syrian reception room, and an Uzbek painting depicting the Prophet Muhammad’s Laylat al Miraj, or trip to heaven. Artists, historians, and many others have found a common appreciation for the stunning visuals offered to visitors, but I was also struck by the name given to the galleries.

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Travelogue: Sufi Shrines in Linxia, China’s “Little Mecca”

Yu Baba Gongbei in Linxia Photo: David Dettmann

In summer 2010, David Dettmann, Assistant Director of the Center for East Asian Studies at the University of Wisconsin, traveled to the Hui heartland in central China to collect material for his course Islam in China. The following is about his experience in Linxia, sometimes called China’s “Little Mecca,” in Southwestern Gansu Province.

When I arrived at Linxia’s bus station, I liked the town immediately. It was obvious upon leaving the bus station that there is a hearty mix of people in Linxia, practicing different faiths and speaking different languages. There were Tibetan monks (likely in transit from the nearby Labrang Monastery in Xiahe), Hui (Chinese-speaking Muslims of various backgrounds), Han Chinese, Salar (Turkic-speaking Muslims), and the Santa and Bonan peoples (Mongol-speaking Muslims). Linxia, formerly known as Hezhou, is located in today’s southwestern Gansu Province, and is sometimes called China’s “Little Mecca” due to its important role in the spread and development of Islam in China. It is a central location in China’s Muslim heartland, part of a broader region that spans from Eastern Qinghai Province in the West, across Gansu and Ningxia, that straddles the borderlands of many historical powers: Chinese, Tibetan, Mongolian, and Turkic. The largest concentrations of China’s Hui communities—China’s largest Muslim group—are located in this region.

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